Well, it finally happened: I finally read a libertarian post so silly I couldn’t resist a response.
Yet you could resist directly responding… (thanks to huskerred for bringing this post to my attention).
To simplify, the libertarian in question claimed that no decision was legitimate unless he had consented to it, and that no prior decision could compel his compliance as he had not consented to it.
As quite obviously the “silly” libertarian in question, I’d like to clarify that what I “claimed” was two-fold: 1. “I believe people should be able to peacefully associate with others in any way all parties voluntarily agree to.” And related to the first, 2. “Someone cannot make an agreement for me,” or as the title of my post read, “Self-ownership is not conditional on the agreements of past generations.” (How foolish of me to consider such thoughts so uncontroversial!)
But your summation is sufficient if we slightly alter it to read: “no decision [affecting his self-ownership, or regarding his life, liberty, or property] was legitimate unless he had consented to it, and that no prior decision could compel his compliance as he had not consented to it.”
There are at least three profound things wrong with this argument: it’s wrong on its face; it’s wrong on social institutions; and it has no promise for building a real world social order. Let me take each in turn.
First, as to the premise: it’s just wrong. For example, I have an 8 1/2 month old son, and I make decisions for him all the time that are entirely legitimate and (probably) appropriate. Likewise, we generally don’t advocate letting crazy people kill themselves, or allowing gunmen to walk into crowded rooms and open fire. There are all kinds of circumstances in which one legitimately has one’s right to make a specific decision taken away, and in which one’s freedom to consent to an act (such as your incarceration) is denied. A blanket statement “never” is, well, silly.
Irrespective of your forthcoming anticipation of the objection, the objection still remains. You say “it’s wrong” and you do not elaborate or explain, simply offer examples of an infant, a “crazy” suicidal person, and a dangerous criminal. Therefore your argument is that my premise is wrong because infants, crazies, and villains exist? Seeing as how my example, in the post that caused an irresistible response, was about a non-crazy, non-criminal adult - this seems to be an irrelevant conclusion.
Now, anticipating the objection that what the person meant to say—but didn’t, even in a follow up post—was that all RATIONAL people should have absolute freedom of choice, let me state that the politics of determining who is and isn’t “rational” are fraught with bias. Ask any woman in history who was denied the right to vote on the grounds that they were “emotional” not “rational,” or any ex-slave who was deemed (by their former masters) to be too “child-like” to be a full member of society. “Rational” is a lovely word. It’s also a tool of repression.
I agree with your last few points here: determining rationality is often fraught with bias and certainly can be (indeed, often has been) a tool of repression.
The fact remains, however, that in every “system,” people find different ways to determine whether a child has reached the mental capacity to offer “rational consent.” (In most countries and territories, an arbitrary age is used which ultimately has little bearing on an individual’s ability to reason or self-govern.) In every “system,” people find different ways to determine whether an individual merits intervention that would otherwise violate the non-aggression principle due to said individual’s mental instability.
This is, without question, a controversial topic that merits thoughtful deliberation: how does one make these determinations in the most fair, just, and humane way possible? In fact, in libertarian and anarchist circles, fervent debate is made of this very difficult question (particularly with regards to children and the role of their parents/guardians). Some examples of anarcho-capitalist view(s) may be found here, here, here, here, and here - though minarchist or consequentialist libertarians may have other ideas. As a father of two young daughters, this is a question that I have pondered many a time.
My view is that in essentially all cases, self-asserting individuals should be treated as self-owners with full rights over their lives, liberty, and property. Yours - as your examples seem to imply - is to view all individuals as potentially irrational (in an self-asserted, mentally-capable sense), so there must exist an entity to place us all as equals in subservience - that we are all effectively repressed.
Perhaps I misunderstood where you stand… but whatever the determination, it is wholly irrelevant to my original post. In that post, I was discussing an unambiguous property owner and a clearly rational self-owner. Your first “profound thing” is both unsubstantiated and immaterial to the idea you wished to refute.
Second, as to the way social institutions work, the simple fact is that by the time my son is of an age where he might choose to be, god help us, a libertarian, he will have benefitted from a vast array of social goods and services that depended on inter-generational commitments of time and labor and money. He will have drunk, bathed and played in untold gallons of safe water. He will have breathed safe air and eaten food that (basically) was safe. He will have not been electrocuted each time he turned on a light switch—which delivered power across an array of regulated mechanisms over large spaces of territory. And he will have enjoyed much, much more. Here’s the thing, though: all of it—ALL OF IT—will have been organized and paid for at least by his parents’ taxes and fees, his grandparents’ and fees, and his great-grandparents’ taxes and fees.
You’re arguing in circles. Is the fact that someone before you paid taxes and fees that they never consented to justification for you to pay taxes and fees that you never consented to?
And that one receives an unrequested benefit does not behold one to whatever demands and reciprocity the benefactor claims to be entitled to. If you arrive home from work tonight and your neighbor has mowed your lawn without any prompting from you, you are not required to pay whatever bill your neighbor leaves in your mailbox.
Furthermore, you offer the implicit (and ridiculous) assumption that safe water, clean air, wholesome food, and regulated electrical power would be non-existant without a loving state extracting fees and taxes to provide them. Funny, that.
The simple fact is that if you wish to have any kind of structure, institution or practice that lasts more than the time it takes two people to exchange whatever good or service they are exchanging, then a commitment beyond a one-to-one agreement is necessary. This need only grows more significant and more complex and social organizations expand in size and scope. Of course, as an adult one can choose to live outside these social orders: go and become a hermit. But if you wish to enjoy the benefits of society, you have to pay some of the costs of society. At least in a democracy you (ideally) get to have some say over those costs.
Again, you’re saying a whole lot of nothing baked into a cake of saccharine statism. We need the state and its monopoly on force to compel people to do things they do not consent to, otherwise we’d be dead in ditches from razor blades in our unregulated oatmeal.
That most regulation actually helps the larger corporations (and connected politicians, bureaucrats, plutocrats, et al) within an industry and typically shields them from wrongdoing is, I’m sure, a necessary evil. It’s merely an unfortunate side-effect that every area in which the state has inserted itself - education, health, nutrition, transportation, etc. - it is a giant, bureaucratic, expensive, dangerous, corporatist mess.
Third, on what should we do instead, let me say that I have never, ever heard a libertarian even vaguely hint at an answer to this. I have seen an endless number of “the government sucks” posts from libertarians but not a single answer to the question: how do I get electricity in a libertarian world? Where everyone has to consent to everything all the time? How do I get safe water? How do I make NASA and a national park and, yes, how do I make sure that actual enemies don’t attack?
You’ve “never, ever heard a libertarian even vaguely hint an answer… [as to] what [we should] do instead.” You “have never seen a libertarian do this in even a vaguely compelling, real world way.” You claim that “[m]ost of the libertarian posts that come up on [your] dashboard are little more than ideological screeds.” You are “still seeking libertarian blogs that [explain] the alternative [to the state].” But then you add “Don’t offer me fantasies. Offer me an argument, preferably one grounded in historical experience” - so that just like the slave owners not so many years ago who dismissed the idea of abolishing slavery, you can shrug off an argument, not on its ethics or merits, but on whether it has successfully been implemented somewhere.
Of course, reality is that if you’ve “never, ever heard a libertarian even vaguely hint an answer… [as to] what [we should] do instead,” then the problem lies squarely with you. Because most of the libertarian and anarcho-capitalist blogs, sites, books, economists, historians, philosophers, educators, and thinkers I read seem to fairly regularly discuss alternatives.
But, of course, you only offer this straw man objection to feign good faith that you’re willing to consider the counter-argument - despite the fact that counter-arguments abound. Indeed, this is such a broad objection that there is no single link I could offer to cover it all. Instead, I offer you what - to a formidable professor such as yourself - likely amounts to little more than light summer reading on not just the libertarian alternative, but the more “extreme” anarcho-capitalist alternative: Chaos Theory, Power and Market, The Machinery of Freedom, Libertarian Anarchism: Responses to 10 Objections, The Private Production of Defense, The Privatization of Roads and Highways, Practical Anarchy, Society without Coercion.
Ultimately, however, offering practical alternatives is secondary to recognizing that, as I stated in the post you found so silly, 1. “People should be able to peacefully associate with others in any way all parties voluntarily agree to.” 2. “Someone cannot make an agreement for me.”
A wife being beaten by her husband need not offer a “practical alternative” to declare his violently aggressive treatment of her wrong and a violation of her self-ownership (much less consider what benefits she gains in return), especially if the husband reserves the right to determine if the alternative is a “fantasy.” Indeed, she’d need only say (to borrow your phrase): “just stop.”
“[E]very argument usually ends up becoming a defense of what’s possible when government is not there to provide a good or perform a service (poorly and inefficiently).
But the salient point in my consistent position against government overreach is: no one could really know how something may best be done once free people are able to utilize the market’s ingenuity-incentivizing system of supply, demand, competition, cooperation, and comparative advantage to create efficient alternatives.
The mutually beneficial trade of a free, decentralized market is far superior to central planning, and … the results of which are essentially unknowable for two fundamental reasons. First, to paraphrase Hayek, there’s no way to imagine what can be designed by millions of people acting freely; and second, to paraphrase Mises, it would be impossible to implement any scheme properly or efficiently even if planned by intelligent, well-meaning angels.”
It’s one thing to critique the way the US does these things now. Indeed, I do it all the time. But it’s quite another to think through an alternative. And I have never seen a libertarian do this in even a vaguely compelling, real world way. Until you can answer these questions, and address my first two points with more than a mocking tone and a fantastical story, please, libertarians, I beg you:
stop claiming no decision or action taken by anyone else can ever be legitimate over you in any way. Just stop.
So to recap, your three ”profound things” countering my assertion that people are not obliged to participate in activities they do not consent to are:
- Infants, crazies, and villains exist, therefore believing people can’t be compelled to agreements against their will is “just wrong.”
- Compelling people against their will is acceptable because people [arguably] benefit from others being compelled against their will. Also, compelling people against their will is fundamental to preventing society from descending into a dangerous spiral of death and destruction.
- Compelling people against their will is acceptable because it’s the best idea we can think of.
An enthralling argument.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time you have fundamentally disregarded consent.
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